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Trees cut for roundabout to be replaced

John Colson

Local officials say the loss of numerous trees just west of Aspen, part of the construction of the controversial roundabout, is not a permanent denuding of the landscape.

According to an agreement with the Colorado Department of Transportation, a $750,000 revegetation plan will mean a greater abundance of native plant species and the planting of “several hundred” young trees, one official said.

The roundabout has been under construction for less than a month, causing traffic delays for commuters and tearing up a large patch of ground around the intersection of Maroon Creek Road and Highway 82.

It is a part of the much-debated “Entrance to Aspen” project, which is to include construction of a light-rail line from the Pitkin County Airport to the center of town, the realignment of Highway 82 across the Holden-Marolt Park, and a new bridge across Castle Creek connecting the highway directly to Main Street and bypassing the existing “S” curves.

When construction began, many citizens were outraged by the destruction of 75 or more mature trees from both sides of Highway 82.

On the north side of the road, along the bike path and golf course, numerous trees were removed to make room for relocated utility lines, while the trees on the south side were torn out to accommodate construction of a transit center and the roundabout itself.

But city Parks Director Jeff Woods said recently that he believes citizens will be happy with the results of the revegetation plan.

“When it’s done, I believe the Entrance to Aspen will be improved over what was there,” said Woods on Friday.

Woods outlined the essentials of the revegetation plan, which includes the planting of native vegetation on the Moore property – the lands most affected by the roundabout construction – as well as the establishment of a new wetlands area on the Holden-Marolt Park lands.

Woods pointed out that the wetlands was “a dream” of the late Al Blomquist, a former Pitkin County manager who died in 1997. Blomquist spent much of his last years working to transform the Holden-Marolt property into a veritable garden of native species, and a wetlands was a big part of his plans.

Although a local open space and environmental group, Friends of Marolt Park, has gone to court to stop construction of the roundabout, based on their view that the project is an illegal use of dedicated open space land, Woods said that, in his view, the project will leave the remaining open ground in better condition than it has been for decades.

“The truth is, this is not a pristine site,” Woods said. “It is degraded agricultural land,” where weeds, thistles and non-native species have run rampant.

As for the trees, Woods said the revegetation plan calls for several hundred trees to be planted to replace the trees that were removed, although the exact location of the trees may be somewhat different from what existed before the project began.

He said designers of the revegetation plan are now looking at ways to “focus” the views from the highway of the Maroon Bells, Shadow Mountain and the entrance to town, by leaving certain spots relatively free of trees.

Woods said he is well aware of the controversy over the removal of so many trees, and of citizens’ concerns about whether the government had ignored its own rules in cutting down so many.

But he said the negotiations over the design of the entrance concentrated especially on the revegetation plan.

“We’re all concerned about this,” he said, “but I think we got the best deal we could under the circumstances.”

In addition to the revegetation plan, he said the roundabout plans call for construction of an underpass just downvalley from the present intersection, to be used by hikers, bikers and cross country skiers in the winter months – an attempt to increase the safety level for pedestrians.

The underpass will not be built this summer, he said, but is planned for an undetermined date in the relatively near future.


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